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The secret to better holiday reading: don’t take too many books

It’s a great chance to reread favourites or catch up on classics – as long as you don’t give yourself too much choice

16 July 2016

9:00 AM

16 July 2016

9:00 AM

Holidays are a welcome chance to lose ourselves between the covers of a book, especially for those of us who struggle to find time to read amid the assorted tyrannies of daily life. So the book that ends up in your suitcase had better be a worthy companion.

The disorganised need not fear: you could do worse than grabbing a paperback at the airport. A holiday is a great time to read an easy new bestseller, not least because your friends are likely to have read it, so you can all discuss it over the third bottle of rosé during a long lunch. Just one note of caution: time tells. Many current bestsellers will have all but disappeared within a few years, whereas a classic endures for a reason. So to avoid your reading being too forgettable, for each new book, take an old one, too.


Not only is a holiday a chance to catch up on a classic you’ve never got around to, it is also an opportunity for the rare pleasure of rereading. Just think how many times you’ve listened to your favourite piece of music, compared with how few you’ve read your favourite book; this is the moment to redress the balance a little. Not only do you get to enjoy happy memories of your first encounter, but a gap of however many years means you read through a different lens, and the book is transformed into something altogether new. A recent revisit to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, last read during my post-GCSE summer, was especially fruitful as I fondly remembered feeling so at home amongst her precocious sex-obsessed schoolgirls, while now being more akin to their teacher, Jean Brodie, in her bittersweet prime.

Choosing a book set where you’re holidaying brings both the writing and the place to life. Reading As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning in Spain was sheer heaven, The Leopard was essential for Sicily, and oh how I wish I’d read Tender Is the Night in the heat and glamour of the south of France rather than in the London rain. This applies to staycations too: Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain is a beautiful companion for a trip to the Scottish Highlands; Jane Austen a treat for Bath, and frankly it would be criminal to go to Cornwall without something by Daphne du Maurier.

But too few is better than too many. Aside from the indignity of having to wear all your jumpers at once to get your book-heavy bag through airline weight restrictions, limiting your choice means you’ll settle down to one book rather than distractedly flitting between several on your e-reader. Moreover, if you run out of things to read while you’re away, you will find yourself borrowing from a friend or even a stranger, or pilfering from the (usually well-stocked) shelves of the villa or B&B. You will most likely alight on something which you’d never have thought of at home, and this serendipity almost always leads to the perfect book. Then, when it’s time to return home, you could leave a book behind, ready to be discovered by a future holiday reader.


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